Ballarat Mental Health Services Bolstered With Addition of Unusual (and Furry) Team Member
After several lockdowns and countless COVID interruptions, Ginny the Groodle has finally graduated from therapy dog school and is now helping to support people in Ballarat with their mental health and wellbeing needs.
The 3-year-old therapy dog and her handler, Rachael – a Mental Health Clinician working with Ballarat Community Health (BCH) – have been providing support to clients at the BCH Cooinda site in Learmonth Road since graduation in March 2022, after seeing the positive impact Ginny’s presence had on workplace culture.
“Utilising dogs in therapy has always been something I have been interested in,” says Rachael.
“Throughout lockdowns, the leaders at a previous workplace encouraged me to bring Ginny in to boost staff morale. It was obvious Ginny loved it and the impact in the office was extremely positive,” she said.
For the last 18 months Ginny has been undergoing formal training to enable BCH to share these benefits with consumers.
“Ginny can help teach regulation of emotions or distress tolerance and is often able to help settle the initial nerves that come with seeking mental health support,” Rachael said.
“We have a lot to learn from dogs. When we focus on their body language we can learn about co-regulating and learn verbal and non-verbal communication skills.”
“Ginny acts as a social lubricant and can help decrease stress and anxiety. Consumers can direct as much or as little energy as they like towards her. We sit on bean bags, go for walks, play with her outside or she lays at your feet,” Rachael explains.
Ginny’s initial training focused on obedience and socialisation. Now that she is qualified, she and Rachael will work together on client treatment – particularly around communication, self-compassion and sensory modulation.
Ginny also engages with consumers in the waiting room, in mental health skills group programs and in after-hours programs. If you are linked in with any BCH Cooinda mental health service, you are welcome to request engagement.
“If you see the ‘on-site’ sign on the door you are welcome to ask to see her. Even just a few minutes of engagement can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health,” Rachael said.
“Ginny and I both love meeting everyone in the waiting room, the tension just dissolves as we engage in pats and chats,” Rachael said.
“I love having her in the office. She boosts our mood and encourages us to all walk and take frequent breaks.”
Ginny is the visiting therapy assistance dog for the Ballarat Community Health Cooinda site. By contacting Head to Health Services at Cooinda and seeking mental health support, therapy dog goals can be discussed in your intake assessment.
Call 03 5338 4500 to make an appointment, or see bchc.org.au/service/head-to-health/